The right to bear arms was so important in the minds of our Founding Fathers that they made it the Second Amendment, right after the First Amendment, which encompasses the freedoms of religion, speech, the press and assembly.
But I was reminded via a local event last week that even though the right to bear arms should not be abridged, it is equally important for gun owners to adhere to certain laws and rules in regard to guns. And if laws are not persuasive enough, common sense should be.
In a story reported last week in The Times-Gazette, a man fired shots when an unarmed couple was trying to retrieve their dogs from his property. According to our story and a law enforcement affidavit, he claims they were warning shots fired into the air (still dangerous since those bullets will land somewhere), while others claim the shots were directed at the couple, one of whom just happened to be our county prosecutor.
That case is pending so we’ll not pre-judge. But in general, there is probably a misconception among many folks about the right to discharge a gun, including a widely-held belief that if someone is on your property uninvited they are fair game to be shot.
That would be incorrect. As Hillsboro city prosecutor Fred Beery reminded everyone in that same story, the use of deadly force – and gunfire would constitute deadly force – can only be legally undertaken “in the defense of oneself or another from great bodily harm.”
The mere act of encroaching on someone’s property does not constitute a threat of great bodily harm, unless someone is pulling into your driveway with their own guns blazing. It might intimidate when property owners post signs warning, “Trespasssers will be shot,” but such signs carry no weight of law and do not endow the landowner with the legal right to shoot someone merely for trespassing.
There might be any number of examples where a home dweller might reasonably feel he or she is under threat of “great bodily harm.” But someone simply strolling onto your property, especially unarmed, would not make a response of gunfire a reasonable reaction.
Now, someone actually breaking into your house – as opposed to just pulling into your driveway or walking onto your yard or field – is a different story in Ohio. But even under Ohio’s “castle doctrine,” deadly force is only justified when someone is breaking into your house if you have a reasonable fear for your life or someone else’s life – although it is likely that you can nearly always make that case when someone is breaking into your home.
The right to bear arms and the right of self-defense should always be protected cornerstones of the fundamental rights of all Americans. Few of us would hesitate to pull the trigger if necessary to defend our own lives or the lives of our loved ones.
But some gun enthusiasts leave the impression that they are just itchin’ to shoot somebody, and soon. The “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality might seem like an attractive bit of braggadocio in a Wild West, hyper-macho sort of way, but it is not what we should strive for.
Hopefully, the majority of even the most ardent pro-Second Amendment people in the world – and I consider myself among that crowd – would agree that aiming a gun at a human being and pulling the trigger would be a terrible thing to do. Fatally shooting someone would be, even under the most legally justifiable circumstances, a haunting experience.
It’s tempting to think otherwise. It’s appealing, sometimes, to think of that person who stole your lawnmower or your car or your jewelry and say, “I wish I’d seen him and had my gun, because I would have shot him.” But the fact is, we’re supposed to value that thief’s life more than we value the property he stole. Life is irreplaceable, which is why the defense of life is the only justifiable reason to take a life.
We hear a lot lately about police shootings, but those are the exceptions, not the norm. It’s always impressive to hear of law enforcement officers who retire after 30 years or so and say, proudly, that they never had to discharge their weapon. They understand more than most what a drastic step it is to fire a bullet at someone.
Gun ownership is a right that we should all proudly exercise and defend, but unless our lives or the lives of others require it, we should just as proudly strive never to fire a gun in the direction of another human being, even if we might think they have it coming.
Gary Abernathy is the publisher of the Hillsboro Times-Gazette, a sister publication of The Madison Press. He can be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.